Volume 13 | Issue 1 | Year 2010

David Soyka reports on this Midwest company’s longstanding key reputation as the wise choice for new and innovative security solutions.

The portable lock is something we take for granted, like turning on the lights. Yet, just as there was a time before Edison’s light bulb, there was a time before a padlock could adequately protect your valuables even from forceful entry.

Locksmith Harry Soref, founder of Master Lock Company, didn’t invent the padlock; he made it better. A little more than a hundred years ago, most padlocks were easily broken apart with a little physical force. Soref got the idea to replicate a bank vault locking design of combining cylinders constructed of laminated layers of steel to bring greater impregnability to the humble padlock.

As is so often the case with truly revolutionary thinking, no lock or hardware company of the time wanted any part of Soref ’s concept. It was too complicated and expensive to make. So, Soref did what any self-respecting inventor does and started his own company to market his ideas. In 1921, the Master Lock Company was founded in Milwaukee, Wis, and three years later patented the first of its kind laminated padlock. Interestingly, the heavier weight of the steel laminated padlock that established companies considered a drawback to its marketability turned out to be a key asset: the extra weight was perceived as extra strength to better protect personal and commercial belongings.

Soref became the world’s authority on locks; famed escape artist Harry Houdini consulted with Soref about methods to break out from locked handcuffs and Soref also served as a government consultant on security during both world wars. At one point, Soref decided to assemble locks backwards from then standard production steps. This innovation not only made the assembly process easier, it significantly improved product quality.

Master Lock maintains its headquarters and main production facilities, occupied since 1939, in Milwaukee, with additional manufacturing and distribution facilities in Mexico and Kentucky. Today, the company employs about 2,000 worldwide and is part of the Fortune Brands family of home and hardware companies. Marketing through a global distributor network, Master Lock serves a wide variety of commercial and consumer market segments, including specific lock applications for automotive, bike, school and institutional lockers, government and general industry segments.

“We’re continuing to build on the Harry Soref tradition of innovation and responsiveness to user-needs,” says John Heppner, president & CEO of Fortune Brands Storage & Security. ”The portable lock and security business is constantly evolving and while we have a great tradition that has resulted in a highly recognized and well regarded brand around the world, what you did yesterday isn’t as important as what you’re doing today, and, moreover, what you’ll have ready for tomorrow.”

David Kraninger, director of marketing notes, for example, that safety and security standards were very different 15 years ago. “Today, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) lockout and tagout (LO/TO) requirements call for specific practices and procedures to safeguard workers from unexpected start-up of equipment and the possible release of hazardous energy during equipment maintenance or service. A LO/TO program requires an authorized employee to either lock or tag the equipment to isolate it and ensure it is only connected or disconnected by appropriate designated personnel. Our Safety Series™ is specifically designed to help facilities meet and surpass OSHA LO/TO requirements, either as individual locks and lockout devices or modular lockout kits. The idea is to implement the best possible lockout system that fits the working environment of the facility.”

Also, since 9/11 air travel is a heightened security concern. “While you can lock your checked baggage, there are only certain kinds of locks you can use to allow Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel to quickly and easily open luggage for inspection,” Kraninger says. “Master Lock has joined together with TSA and Travel Sentry™ to use the special Travel Sentry™ mark on luggage and travel bag locks that meet TSA requirements. Whether you’re securing a briefcase, computer bag, backpack, wheeled upright, garment bag, golf bag, or any other travel bag, these locks allow TSA screeners to open your locks, inspect, and re-lock your bags, sending them quickly and securely on their way.”

Kraninger emphasizes that locks today are less a commodity and more of a critical core component of an overall security solution. “Customers aren’t just interested in getting a lock; they want a cost-effective approach to secure property and personal safety.”

One example is a “visual lockout program” that, in conjunction with the Safety Series™ products, help ensure OSHA LO/TO compliance. Safety engineers visit, develop and post complete visual lockout procedures for a piece of equipment, with corresponding ID markers at each lockout point to indicate required steps. The result is a more efficient, more accurate lockout process that provides for less equipment downtime, but also a safer work environment. Both save the company money and peace of mind.

Another growing trend in secure solutions is software designed to record the location of every lock in a facility as well as who has authorized access to these locks. “Take the example of a school, where you have hundreds of students with lockers,” Kraninger says. “You have to assign students to lockers every year, and every year there is a turnover in which students are assigned to which lockers. Moreover, the administration needs access to those lockers both to maintain them and to turn ownership over to the next group of students. If someone leaves a lock on and is no longer a student, how do you know how to get into that locker without breaking its lock? Well you record each lock to each locker number, and the combination for that lock. If you’re using paper and pen, that’s a fairly time intensive process both to create and manage. Our solution is LockerManager® software that automatically tracks lock and locker assignments, and can be easily updated to simplify and economize all locker maintenance activities.”

Also responding to evolving student requirements, the company recently designed a revolutionary new locking combination padlock. “Our Speed Dial™ series is the first lock that lets you set a combination through a series of up-right-left-down movements, sort of like you might operate a cell ph

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